Thursday, October 27, 2011

Heating the Home with Wood

Growing up our family had a cast iron wood stove. I loved coming into the "addition." wet and frozen from an afternoon's play in the snow. I'd open the door and wham! be blasted with a wall of heat from that stove. By the time I shimmied my coat, hat, and gloves off the  snow was melting into little pools, the clothes were steaming, and I was well on my way to warming up. And the smell of woodsmoke! My clothes smelled like a campfire all winter, as Mom dried our laundry either outdoors or by the fire—we never did have a clothes dryer. 

It was no wonder that when we were house shopping one of my "must haves" was a wood stove—or a place to put one. I'd take a fireplace, but I really wanted a wood stove. The house we purchased did not have one. But, just in time for our first Valentine's Day, my dear husband installed a cast iron stove on our sunporch. 

For best heating value, there were other places the stove could have gone. Namely, the north side of the house, which happens to be our music/living room. In old days it would have been the front parlor. Aesthetically speaking, I didn't want a stovepipe running out the front of my house, and for practical purposes, I didn't want to be hauling wood in on our wood floors into our living room. Way too messy. The sunporch had limited use since two walls are built of sliding glass doors. Putting the stove in there allowed us to use the room all year long, and it still keeps the first floor nice and toasty. (Upstairs is still a bit frosty, though.) The floor is stained cement, so it's easy to clean. We store a half cord of wood on the deck, keeping the mess outside.

We don't have a woodlot; acquiring firewood is something we think about all year long. It is a last resort to buy wood, since we use so much. Our first year we used over 6 cords of wood. (A true cord is a pile of split and cut wood that measures 4'w x4'h x8'L.) I have since learned how to better manage the fire and our usage is now, typically, around 3 cords. I picked up a used book called Heating with Wood that describes the best woods to use, cutting and preparing wood, and managing fires. 

Anyone who heats with a wood stove will tell you that using hard wood (oak, hickory, maple) is the burns cleaner and longer. Agreed, it is the best choice. Most will also say never to use soft woods (conifers such as pine, fir, yew) in your wood stove because it coats the inside of your chimney with creosote, a major fire hazard. Also agreed. But, beggars can't be choosers. Not that we're begging, but our wood acquisition often goes like this:
      Neighbor: My friend had a tree come down. Want to help me collect it and
      we'll split the pile?

      Us: Sure. What kind of tree is it?
      Neighbor: Dead, down, and free

The point being, we take what we can get and we burn whatever it is. We do mix the softwoods in, so we're not burning full loads of pine. And Husband cleans the chimney at least once during the burning season, and then again afterward.

We've spread the word that we heat with wood and will come clean up downed trees, we check craigslist for free wood, we pick up pieces along the side of the road, and occasionally we buy wood. I'm checking into getting a wood gathering permit from the state, but I'm just at the beginning research stage. I'll let you know what transpires.

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